Second-ranked Raiders to rally around Smith and Hirata
A starting lineup of five seniors usually gets teams some early recognition heading into the season.
Such is the case for the Iolani girls basketball squad, which is ranked second in the Star-Bulletin Basketball Preseason Top 10.
The starting unit is led by returning four-year starting center Jamie Smith, who was second in the ILH in scoring a season ago.
Top 10 countdown
With girls high school basketball season approaching, the Star-Bulletin is counting down its preseason Top 10, as determined in a poll of coaches and media members:
Last year's ILH champion Raiders advanced to the semifinals of the state tournament before losing to eventual winner Konawaena.
With so many girls from that team back, the hunger is there to get Iolani its first state championship in 12 years.
"It's a first for me," coach Glenn Takara said about starting five seniors. "We are a lot farther ahead than we usually are at this time of the season, so it has allowed us to focus on some other things."
The Raiders always are undersized, but might be more so this year than ever before. After the 6-foot Smith, Iolani's next tallest player is a 5-foot-8 freshman.
"We're undersized compared to Punahou and Kamehameha so we'll probably try to push the ball up a little more," Takara said. "That's probably going to be our advantage."
The Raiders are 8-0 so far in the preseason but will be tested in the Iolani Classic.
Due to the change in seasons from spring to winter for girls' basketball, the tournament will have a girls field for the first time.
In addition to local powerhouses Punahou, Kamehameha, Moanalua, Roosevelt and the host Raiders, there will also be three teams from California in it as well.
"It'll be a good chance to see where we stack up," Takara said.
2007-08 record: 21-5 (11-2 ILH)
On paper: Smith is the centerpiece in the middle, but should have plenty of help around her. Chanel Hirata is a deadly shooter from 3-point range and will help keep teams from double- and even triple-teaming Smith.
Dana Jandoc will share point guard duties with talented junior Tami Konishi.
Senior forward Kylie Ahlo will be relied on to guard the opposition's second-tallest player, which could be tough against some of the bigger teams.
Richelle Takara is the other expected starting senior, and sophomore Lori Yamashita should be a key contributor off the bench.
The skinny: The Raiders make up for their lack of size by playing a lot of girls who are interchangeable at both positions.
Most of the team can handle the ball and also play inside, so they will be able to switch a lot on defense.
The starting unit of all seniors has the Raiders ahead of where they normally are this early in the season, so Takara has been able to focus more on integrating players like Yamashita into the system.
X-factor: Iolani is fortunate to have plenty of experienced seniors, but the key will be how well the older girls blend with some of the younger players.
"It has to be more of a team effort," Takara said. "Everybody is going to have to add something here and there both offensively and defensively."
Teams are going to key on Smith and Hirata so the Raiders will have to get other players to step up and take the pressure off the big two.